The Supramental Process of Knowledge

The mental approach to knowledge is one that starts from limitation and division and attempts to expand to comprehend what appears to be a separate external reality. In order to avoid confusion when the small individual ego meets the larger external reality, the mind has developed a mechanism of attempting to divorce its understanding and perceptions from vital or emotional bonding, by developing a conscious separation which we call “objectivity”.

The supramental approach to knowledge is radically different. Sri Aurobindo describes this difference: “the gnostic consciousness will at once intimately and exactly know its object by a comprehending and penetrating identification with it. It will overpass what it has to know, but it will include it in itself; it will know the object as part of itself as it might know any part or movement of its own being, without any narrowing of itself by the identification or snaring of its thought in it so as to be bound or limited in knowledge. There will be the intimacy, accuracy, fullness of a direct internal knowledge, but not that misleading by personal mind by which we constantly err, because the consciousness will be that of a universal and not a restricted and ego-bound person. It will proceed towards all knowledge, not setting truth against truth to see which will stand and survive, but completing truth by truth in the light of the one Truth of which all are the aspects. All idea and vision and perception will have this character of an inner seeing, an intimate extended self-perception, a large self-integrating knowledge, an indivisible whole working itself out by light acting upon light in a self-executing harmony of truth-being. There will be an unfolding, not as a delivery of light out of darkness, but as a delivery of light out of itself; for if an evolving supramental Consciousness holds back part of its contents of self-awareness behind in itself, it does this not as a step or by an act of Ignorance, but as the movement of a deliberate bringing out of its timeless knowledge into a process of Time-manifestation. A self-illumination, a revelation of light out of light will be the method of cognition of this evolutionary supramental Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Seeing the World as a Universe of the Spirit

The mental consciousness seeks knowledge from a basis of what is unknown to it. The fragmentation and separation implied by this is the characteristic of the action of Mind, Life and Matter. The action of the gnostic consciousness represents a radical change in the basis of knowing, whereby it becomes a successive revealing of what is known through a recognition of the identity of the Knower, the Known and the Process of Knowing. This change will not destroy the lower powers, but uplift and transform, as Sri Aurobindo describes: “The supramental transformation, the supramental evolution must carry with it a lifting of mind, life and body out of themselves into a greater way of being in which their own ways and powers would be, not suppressed or abolished, but perfected and fulfilled by the self-exceeding.”

The gnostic consciousness “will act not by the discovery of the unknown, but by the bringing out of the known; all will be the finding ‘of the self by the self in the self.’ For the self of the gnostic being will not be the mental ego but the Spirit that is one in all; he will see the world as a universe of the Spirit. The finding of the one truth underlying all things will be the Identical discovering identity and identical truth everywhere and discovering too the power and workings and relations of that identity. The revelation of the detail, the circumstance, the abundant ways and forms of the manifestation will be the unveiling of the endless opulence of the truths of that identity, its forms and powers of self, its curious manifoldness and multiplicity of form bringing out infinitely its oneness. This knowledge will proceed by identification with all, by entering into all, by a contact bringing with it a leap of self-discovery and a flame of recognition, a greater and surer intuition of truth than the mind can reach; there will be an intuition too of the means of embodying and utilising the truth seen, an operative intuition of its dynamic processes, a direct intimate awareness guiding the life and the physical senses in every step of their action and service to the Spirit when they have to be called in as instruments for the effectuation of process in Life and Matter.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

The Supramental Way of Knowledge

If we reflect on the process of knowledge to which we are accustomed, we can see that it is essentially one of seeking for some truth, in most cases through a process of trial and error, with a methodology of trying to build up or piece together that truth from individual facts or principles. It is a mixed process in which bits of truth are combined with bits of falsehood. Over time, as our experience and understanding grows, we discard elements we held as true previously, and widen our understanding step by step.

Sri Aurobindo describes the supramental way of knowledge: The gnostic change “will act not by the discovery of the unknown, but by the bringing out of the known; all will be the finding “of the self by the self in the self.” For the self of the gnostic being will not be the mental ego but the Spirit that is one in all; he will see the world as a universe of the Spirit. The finding of the one truth underlying all things will be the Identical discovering identity and identical truth everywhere and discovering too the power and workings and relation of that identity. The revelation of the detail, the circumstance, the abundant ways and forms of the manifestation will be the unveiling of the endless opulence of the truths of that identity, its forms and powers of self, its curious manifoldness and multiplicity of form bringing out infinitely its oneness. This knowledge will proceed by identification with all, by entering into all, by a contact bringing with it a leap of self-discovery and a flame of recognition, a greater and surer intuition of truth than the mind can reach; there will be an intuition too of the means of embodying and utilising the truth seen, an operative intuition of its dynamic processes, a direct intimate awareness guiding the life and the physical senses in every step of their action and service to the Spirit when they have to be called in as instruments for the effectuation of process in Life and Matter.”

“The supramental transformation, the supramental evolution must carry with it a lifting of mind, life and body out of themselves into a greater way of being in which yet their own ways and powers would be, not suppressed or abolished, but perfected and fulfilled by the self-exceeding.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Evolution of Consciousness on the Basis of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo maps the two hemispheres, the 3 planes consisting of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Self-Existence consisting of Being, Consciousness and Delight of Existence) and the 3 planes consisting of Matter-Life-Mind (self-existent manifold becoming with multiple forms of being, multiple forms of knowledge, and multiple forms of delight. The Supermind acts as the link which mediates the relationship between Self-Existence, complete in itself with no “need” to “do” anything, and Self-Becoming which has as its purpose the manifold manifestation of all the possibilities of existence, consciousness and delight of existence.

Supermind acting on its own native plane takes on the character of the upper hemisphere, founded in Knowledge and expressing pure Sat-Chit-Ananda; while when it enters into the lower hemisphere to evolve and manifest, it represents itself sequentially as an evolving existence, evolving consciousness and an evolving delight of existence.

The appearance of the gnostic being is “the sign of an evolution from the consciousness of the Ignorance into the consciousness of Sachchidananda. In the Ignorance one is there primarily to grow, to know and to do, or, more exactly to grow into something, to arrive by knowledge at something, to get something done.” There is an inherent dis-satisfaction in our being as we are imperfect, limited, struggling to exist and to achieve and to find satisfaction in life. We move eventually from a focus on survival to a focus on a will to act and achieve, and then a will to knowledge, and a will to find the pleasure of existence inherent in all. “But our aims and our effort towards their achievement and the little we can hold as our gains turn into meshes by which we are bound; it is these things that become for us the object of life: to know our souls and to be our selves, which must be the foundation of our true way of being, is a secret that escapes us in our preoccupation with an external learning, an external construction of knowledge, the achievement of an external action, an external delight and pleasure. The spiritual man is one who has discovered his soul: he has found his self and lives in that, is conscious of it, has the joy of it; he needs nothing external for his completeness of existence. The gnostic being starting from this new basis takes up our ignorant becoming and turns it into a luminous becoming of knowledge and a realised power of being. All therefore that is our attempt to be in the Ignorance, he will fulfil in the Knowledge. All knowledge he will turn into a manifestation of the self-knowledge of being, all power and action into a power and action of the self-force of being, all delight into a universal delight of self-existence.”

“Each stage of the evolution in the knowledge will be an unfolding of this power and will of being and this joy to be, a free becoming supported by the sense of the Infinite, the bliss of the Brahman, the luminous sanction of the Transcendence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Gnostic Being Harnesses Powers of Mental & Vital Planes for Effective Action in Material World

The knowledge and power of the gnostic being are not limited to the outer surface life in the material world. The powers native to the planes of Life and Mind, which act and influence the outer life, but which originate in the native planes or worlds of Mind and Life, are accessible to the conscious knowledge of the gnostic individual and form part of the action by which the gnostic being acts and influences the life in the world.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this action: “At the same time the universal inner life of the individual will not be confined to an inner pervasive and inclusive contact with the physical world alone: it will extend beyond it through the full realisation of the subliminal inner being’s natural connection with other planes of being; a knowledge of their powers and influences will have become a normal element of the inner experience, and the happenings of this world will be seen not solely in their external aspect but also in the light of all that is secret behind the physical and terrestrial creation and movement. A gnostic being will possess not only a truth-conscious control of the realised Spirit’s power over its physical world, but also the full power of the mental and vital planes and the use of their greater forces for the perfection of the physical existence. This greater knowledge and wider hold of all existence will enormously increase the power of instrumentation of the gnostic being on his surroundings and on the world of physical Nature.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

One for All and All for One

The development of the gnostic consciousness brings about a complete transformation in both the way of seeing the world, and the action of the individual in the world. The normal human viewpoint, based on the dividing consciousness of Mind, is no longer operative. Rather, the unifying consciousness of Supermind brings about a new vision of all existence and all beings as One, while at the same time, expanding the individual’s consciousness to embrace and contain all within one’s being. the individual represents a nexus or point of manifestation, unique but not separate from the rest of creation.

Sri Aurobindo describes this consciousness: “He will have the cosmic consciousness, sense, feeling, by which all objective life will become part of his subjective existence and by which he will realise, perceive, feel, see, hear the Divine in all forms; all forms and movements will be realised, sensed, seen, heard, felt as if taking place within his own vast self of being. The world will be connected not only with his outer but with his inner life. He will not meet the world only in its external form by an external contact; he will be inwardly in contact with the inner self of things and beings: he will meet consciously their inner as well as their outer reactions; he will be aware of that within them of which they themselves will not be aware, act upon all with an inner comprehension, encounter all with a perfect sympathy and sense of oneness but also an independence which is not overmastered by any contact. His action on the world will be largely an inner action by the power of the Spirit, by the spiritual-supramental idea-force formulating itself in the world, by the secret unspoken word, by the power of the heart, by the dynamic life-force, by the enveloping and penetrating power of the self one with all things; the outer expressed and visible action will be only a fringe, a last projection of this vaster single total of activity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Reconciling the Transcendent, Universal and Individual in the Gnostic Being

Historically, spiritual seekers have recognised the need to separate themselves from the life of the world to cultivate their spiritual life and seeking inwardly. This has led to traditions all around the world of the renunciate, whether in the form of the Indian Sadhu, or the sojourn in the desert or life in a cloister or monastery. Essentially this inner movement helps the seeker to develop and strengthen his connection with the Eternal, the Transcendent, which can get overwhelmed in the awareness by the force of action in the world. At the same time, there is a call to embrace and expand outwards the spiritual expression through oneness and compassion with the entire manifested universe. The ideal of the Bodhisattva is one such attempt to bring the spiritual focus to action in the world.

The gnostic being, embracing the deeper significance of the manifestation and evolution of consciousness, cannot simply escape into a transcendent status, but must find the way to maintain the connection with the transcendent while concurrently acting in the world from the basis of knowledge. Sri Aurobindo describes this relation as follows: “The gnostic being will have indeed an inmost existence in which he is alone with God, one with the Eternal, self-plunged into the depths of the Infinite, in communion with its heights and its luminous abysses of secrecy; nothing will be able to disturb or to invade these depths or bring him down from the summits, neither the world’s contents nor his action nor all that is around him.”

“But at the same time God-love and the delight of God will be the heart’s expression of that inner communion and oneness, and that delight and love will expand itself to embrace all existence. The peace of God within will be extended in the gnostic experience of the universe into a universal calm of equality not merely passive but dynamic, a calm of freedom in oneness dominating all that meets it, tranquillising all that enters into it, imposing its law of peace on the supramental being’s relations with the world in which he is living. Into all his acts the inner oneness, the inner communion will attend him and enter into his relations with others, who will not be to him others but selves of himself in the one existence, his own universal existence. It is this poise and freedom in the Spirit that will enable him to take all life into himself while still remaining the spiritual self and to embrace even the world of the Ignorance without himself entering into the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”